July 2, 2014 at 8:17 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Report shows new HIV cases in D.C. continue to decline
Vincent Gray, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade

‘My administration’s commitment to address the District’s HIV epidemic has turned the tide on HIV in our city,’ said Mayor Vincent Gray. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the District of Columbia decreased to 680 in 2012, a decline of 42 percent from the 1,180 new cases reported in 2008, according to the city’s 2014 Annual Epidemiology & Surveillance Report released on Wednesday.

But similar to all previous reports on the status of the AIDS epidemic in D.C., the category of men who have sex with men (MSM) continued to show the highest number of newly reported and existing HIV cases.

Among the good news, according to city health officials, is that the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases for men who have sex with men has also shown a steady decline over the past five years.

The year 2012 is the most recent year for which HIV/AIDS-related data has been analyzed and published in the 2014 report, which was prepared by the city’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), an arm of the Department of Health.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Department of Health Director Dr. Joxel Garcia, and HAHSTA director Michael Kharfen each gave an optimistic assessment of the status of the AIDS epidemic in the District at a news conference on Wednesday in which they officially released the new report.

“My administration’s commitment to address the District’s HIV epidemic has turned the tide on HIV in our city, and I’m proud of the progress we continue to make,” Gray said. “While we are still experiencing an HIV epidemic, our innovative programs and partnerships have allowed us to make significant progress in reducing new HIV infections and improve treatment for those with HIV,” he said.

Gray noted that the report shows that the decrease in new HIV cases and the steep decline in the number of deaths from full blown AIDS in the city parallels the city’s aggressive campaign to persuade thousands more people to get tested for HIV and enter the city’s “treatment on demand” programs if they test positive.

Kharfen said efforts to get more people tested and treated with effective anti-retroviral drugs has confirmed predictions by AIDS experts that getting people with HIV treated lowers their viral load counts, significantly reducing the chance of their transmitting the virus to someone else.

“The most significant development we’ve seen is a consistent reduction in new HIV diagnoses in the city,” Kharfen told the Blade after the news conference. “And that has been sustained over a five-year period of time, which means that the cumulative efforts that we’ve been doing around testing and diagnosing people and diagnosing them early in their stage of infection and being able to connect them to care and keep them in care,” he said.

The report included these key findings:

• A total of 16,072 D.C. residents or 2.5 percent of the population are living with HIV. This exceeds the World Health Organization’s definition of 1 percent as a “severe epidemic.”

• Blacks, Hispanics, and whites with HIV exceed 1 percent of their respective populations, with blacks disproportionately impacted by 3.9 percent.

• There were no confirmed cases of a baby born with HIV in 2012.

• The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases in D.C. decreased to 680 cases in 2012, a decline of 42 percent from 1,180 cases in 2008.

• Men who have sex with men (MSM) was the mode of transmission most likely to be reported among newly diagnosed HIV cases from 2008 through 2012 (38.8 percent); heterosexual contact was the next highest mode of transmission (31.6 percent).

• A decline of 29 percent was observed in the number of HIV cases diagnosed among MSM between 2008 (443 cases) to 2012 (313 cases).

• A decline of 36 percent in the overall number of HIV cases diagnosed among persons with heterosexual contact as the mode of transmission was seen between 2008 (335 cases) and 2012 (215 cases).

• Newly diagnosed HIV cases dropped most dramatically (81 percent) among persons reporting injection drug use between 2008 and 2012. The report attributes this sharp decline to the city’s expanded clean needle exchange program following a decision by Congress to lift its longstanding ban on use of city funds for such programs.

The report can be viewed online at doh.dc.gov/hahsta.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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